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Make room, literally, for Starshine, an expansive tropical shrub

The Starshine clerodendrum is among the most exotic shrubs for the tropical garden.
The Starshine clerodendrum is among the most exotic shrubs for the tropical garden. TNS

Giant heart-shaped leaves and a cluster of a hundred salmon coral flowers in a pagoda-shaped panicle make the Starshine clerodendrum among the most exotic shrubs for the tropical garden. I first saw this variety a few years ago at the University of Georgia Plant Trials in Athens, Georgia. I knew if I was seeing it there it had dynamite potential in many parts of the country.

Starshine is a variety of Clerodendrum paniculatum native to Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. It is cold-hardy from zones 8-11

I have always been a Clerodendrum nut, even loving those that others considered invasive. When I first started writing, Clerodendrums were in the verbena family but as technology advanced it necessitated the move a few years ago to the Lamiaceae or mint family.

Java glorybower is known botanically as Clerodendrum speciosissimum and as the name suggests, is native to Java. Bright scarlet-red flowers are produced on large panicles that are flattened on top versus the pagoda shape of Starshine.

Both of these clerodendums would be worthy annuals in the garden with the same mindset one has for a petunia basket or perhaps a tropical hibiscus.

Plant either in a bed where the soil is fertile and organic rich. Though I have seen both performing in full sun, I like their look where they get a little afternoon shade or filtered light. This protection from intense afternoon sun seems to produce a much lusher specimen, reminiscent of the islands.

These are not tiny plants. I’ve seen pagoda flowers well above a 6-foot stockade fence and know the Java glorybower can match. They will spread outward forming a clump and exhibiting enormous leaves that simply add to the tropical motif, so give them adequate room.

Both are loved by butterflies and hummingbirds, so as you are choosing companions consider other such plants for both the look of paradise and those that will bring in the pollinators. Good choices would be Bengal Tiger cannas, Amistad salvia and tropical hibiscus. Plants like elephant ears and bananas with their coarse texture foliage will also enhance your corner of paradise.

Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South.”